Are snakes good pets for autistic children?

Some snakes, like a corn snake, ball python, Kenyan sand boa, and California king snake are good exotic pets that are great for a child with autism. They can be great therapy pets for an autistic child.

A snake can help a child with autism relax and increase his or her attention span. This exotic reptile can also help with emotional and social development.

In this post, we will explore the top 6 reasons to consider a snake for your child with autism. Read on to get informed.  

What Are Exotic Pets?

Exotic pets are animals that are usually not domesticated and exist in the wild.

These animals are uncommon and rare and may need unusual care compared to popular pets like cats and dogs. Reptiles, including snakes and bearded dragons, are usually considered good exotic pets for a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

Ball Python

Snake species that are considered exotic pets are usually not aggressive and easy to handle. Ball pythons and corn snakes, for example, enjoy being handled (this can help with social interaction and communication). They are also easy to care for in terms of habitat and feeding.

Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are another great exotic pet that can help a child with autism. This is so because beardies like being handled and cuddled. A child with an autism spectrum disorder or ASD will not have a hard time taking care of this reptile.

Feeding a bearded dragon is also fairly easy. You just need to help your autistic child learn how many crickets he or she should feed the beardie and after how long.       

Top 6 Reasons to Consider a Snake for Your Child With Autism

Here are 6 reasons for getting a snake for your child with autism:

1.    Easy to Care For

The first and probably the most important reason a snake can be a great pet for a child with autism is the ease of care. You and your child will only need a few things to make life easier for a snake – a proper size enclosure, a heat source, food, a hide box, and clean water.

Snakes do not move around very much. So, they do not need a very big enclosure. The tank only needs to be approximately the same length as the snake. An enclosure with a glass front is ideal for watching the snake. Proper ventilation is important to allow a smooth flow of air, in and out of the container.

Once you have the right size enclosure, the next important thing is location. Choose a location that is away from doors and windows to keep your child’s snake from getting sick. Also, make sure the terrarium is in an area with less traffic. This will reduce stress on the snake, which is always good.

The basic setup of the enclosure needs a good heat source, heat pad, and a screen top with a secured locking mechanism. You also need wood shaving bedding, a water dish for clean, fresh water, and a hide box.  

Feeding a snake for your child with autism is even easier because he or she only has to feed the snake every seven to 10 days. A corn snake, for example, will only eat one mouse in seven to 10 days. Always teach your child not to handle the snake immediately after feeding.

2.    Soothing and Grounding 

Dogs and cats are regular pets in most homes. But, are they soothing and grounding? Probably not because they tend to move quickly. This could startle and overstimulate a child with autism.

Snakes, on the other hand, use a consistent amount of pressure to move slowly and steadily. They also tend to have a gentle disposition and that is why they are soothing and grounding.

The slow-moving nature of most snakes gives a secure and grounding feeling without overstimulation. The slow movement and the weight of the snake add to the sensory input and joint pressure for a child with autism.     

Corn snakes, for example, are the gentlest and one of the most suitable options for a child with autism. When held properly, a corn snake does not usually bite and will be happy to slither around your child’s arms and hands. 

You will even be able to see how happy your child is when he or she interacts with the snake.

3.    Great Emotional Support Animals

Snakes make great emotional support animals. An emotional support animal is simply a companion that is meant to provide companionship and emotional support to a child with autism.

When most people think of emotional support animals, they normally think of a cuddly cat or playful dog. But, what about a slithering ball python or corn snake.

As mentioned earlier, cats and dogs can overstimulate and startle your autistic child. The gentle disposition of domesticated snakes, however, can provide much-needed help. A snake will help your child with autism spectrum disorder have a sense of purpose.

4.    Teaching the Child Understanding and Empathy

A snake can help develop the growing mind of a child with an autism spectrum disorder by teaching him or her understanding and empathy.

A child with ASD can talk with his or her pet without the fear of rejection. Unlike a normal child, a child with autism may have difficulty socializing and communicating with other people. In some cases, the child may even have a hard time understanding the actions of other people in the family.

As a result, the child may avoid social settings, have low self-esteem, have feelings of hopelessness, and develop approval-seeking behavior.

Snakes have a different way of communicating, which is usually through body language. As such, a child with autism may feel more confident and driven to learn how to understand the animal’s movements. In the process, the child will learn how to share feelings with the animal.

With understanding and empathy, comes calmness and relaxation. Before you know it your child has a reliable source of stimulation for his or her brain and body.

With their gentle squeezes and calm natures, snakes like the ball python and corn snakes may help with anxiety and depression. Snakes are also great for a non-verbal child with an autism spectrum disorder. This is so because they are not inclined to pass judgment whenever the child makes a mistake.

5.    Children Love Snakes

As odd as that may sound to some people, research suggests that children love snakes. Children are overly curious humans and they always want to know what it feels like to touch a snake.

It is probably because snakes do not have legs like cats and dogs do. Snakes appear unique with their long, slender bodies. According to some studies, the desire for a child to interact with a snake is strong.

A snake, like a ball python, may stay balled up when introduced to a child for the first time. But the inquisitive nature of a child will quickly help create a relationship. A snake will hardly show any kind of stress around a child once they have gotten used to each other.  

6.    Snakes Are Not Very Expensive

Another reason for considering a snake for your child with autism is the cost of keeping one. Domesticated snakes that are usually recommended for children are not very expensive.

There is no way to tell the exact cost of getting and keeping a snake. The cost may vary a lot depending on the species you are getting. The cost of getting a snake may range from $25 up to $10,000. The price range is massive. So, the chances of you and your child getting a snake that fits the budget is incredibly high.

Other costs you should expect to incur include the cost of the enclosure setup, the cost of food, and the cost of visiting a veterinarian.   

When all is said and done, the startup costs associated with buying, housing, and feeding a snake may range from approximately $150 for a smaller specie to around $1,000 for a larger specie.

How to Safely Handle a Snake

Just because domesticated snakes have a gentle disposition does not mean that they are okay with being mishandled. You have to teach your child with autism how to handle and care for the snake. Here are a few resourceful tips:

  • Teach your child to always wash their hands before handling a snake to get rid of any food scent
  • Help your child understand the type of snake (constrictor or non-constrictor) they have
  • Get the snake accustomed to the presence of your child
  • Guide your child to move predictably and slowly to avoid surprising the snake
  • Teach your child how to gently scoop the snake out of its enclosure
  • Encourage your child to hold along the base of the head to effectively control the teeth and the bitting area

Final Words

We hope these reasons are good enough to convince you to get a snake for your child with an autism spectrum disorder (or even if they don’t)! But, if you decide to get a snake for your child, you must be involved in its upkeep. Just like any other pet, having a snake is a long-term commitment. You must also supervise any interactions between a snake and your child, especially if it is a constrictor.

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Written by Jennifer Munsel

Jennifer works with Reptiles Life, a blog with a passion for all things replies. She enjoys deep-diving into how kids can properly care for pets like snakes, lizards and turtles.